Falun Gong protests fade on China law anniversary
BEIJING, Oct 30 (Reuters) - A handful of members of the Falun Gong spiritual group staged sporadic protests in Tiananmen Square on Monday a year after Beijing passed new legislation outlawing the group. Plans for a mass demonstration and a petition on the penultimate day of a meeting of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) -- China's parliament -- appeared to have fallen through.
Despite several large Falun Gong protests last week, security around the square was more relaxed than usual with just one police minivan patrolling among a few hundred tourists, witnesses said. Plainclothes and uniformed officers detained about a dozen suspected Falun Gong members, most of whom walked quietly into the van. Two protesters tried to raise banners, while another man started to perform Falun Gong breathing exercises, they said.
Falun Gong members had been expected to issue a petition on Monday to mark the latest in a string of sensitive dates -- the first anniversary of a resolution passed by the NPC Standing Committee which outlawed all "heretic cults." That allowed tougher sentences on Falun Gong organisers.
Adherents of Falun Gong, a mixture of Daoism and Buddhism and traditional Chinese physical exercises, have protested almost daily in Tiananmen Square, China's political heart, since the movement was banned in July last year. But they have staged larger, better-organised protests around key dates, like Saturday's first anniversary of an editorial in the People's Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, which first declared Falun Gong an "evil cult."
MORE DEATHS IN CUSTODY
Monday's protests also coincided with a report that three more Falun Gong followers had died of ill treatment in police custody, taking the total number of such deaths to 62. One of the latest victims was Wang Bin, 47, a computer technician in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said in a statement. Wang died on October 5 after being beaten for three hours for refusing to write a statement promising not to practise Falun Gong again, the centre said. Another, Xie Guiying, 32, was beaten to death this month after struggling with police who took her from her home in Huainan city in the eastern province of Anhui, it said. Liu Yucai, 60, a private doctor from the northeastern province of Jilin, was beaten to death after being detained during another Falun Gong protest on Tiananmen Square on China's October 1 National Day, it said. Authorities have acknowledged several deaths in custody, but say most resulted from suicide or illnesses.
Falun Gong representatives said Monday's turnout could have been thinned by a security crackdown over the weekend, but insisted that protests were not centrally organised or politically motivated.
"There have never been any banners and slogans against the government," said Sophie Xiao, a spokeswoman for Falun Gong in Hong Kong. "We just want the freedom to practise. We have no political agenda at all."
In Hong Kong, about 80 Falun Gong members meditated outside Beijing's Central Liaison Office to urge China to release their bretheren jailed on the mainland. Wearing yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the words "China Stop Persecuting Falun Gong," the followers went through their slow-motion exercises in the busy Causeway Bay district. Around them were blown up pictures of bruised limbs, which the group said were photographs of injuries sustained by fellow practitioners while in custody or in jail on mainland China.
Beijing has accused Falun Gong of trying to overthrow the government, detained thousands of adherents, and jailed some 150 prominent members for "using a cult to obstruct justice." The movement says some 50,000 followers have been detained. Many are sent for "reform through labour," a punishment which does not require a trial.
Copyright 2000 Reuters Limited.